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Youth Interactive Steps Up, Out with High-Profile Space in Downtown Santa Barbara

Release Date: October 28,2018

Youth Interactive
Youth Interactive’s new location at 1219 State St. in Santa Barbara includes a roomy retail space to display and sell works by student artists and their mentors. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews | October 28, 2018

Youth Interactive, a nonprofit arts entrepreneurship academy for at-risk youth, has a new space in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, the better to meet the needs of the creative community and empower the next generation with life skills.

The new gallery at 1219 State St., across from The Granada Theatre, showcases student and professional artists who work alongside each other in various disciplines. The new venue exhibits contemporary work from multiple mediums like art, sculpture, assemblage, painting, photography, new media and T-shirt design.

After spending five years in a 1,000-square-foot storefront in the Funk Zone, Youth Interactive relocated to its new, nearly 13,000-square-foot home with help from the Hutton Parker Foundation.

“It was a great opportunity,” Hutton Parker Foundation president Tom Parker said of the foundation’s purchase of the building. “Downtown needs a lot of people thinking outside the box, and this is one example.”

Youth Interactive empowers and employs low-income Santa Barbara County youth ages 14 to 24, offering an intensive program of arts, mentorship and enterprise skills.

“It’s giving all students the same opportunities,” said Nathalie Gensac, who founded the after-school art program in 2012. “We can use this space to strengthen the community.”

Youth Interactive partners with area schools, the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County to provide a path to student success, aiming to create youth-led businesses based on entrepreneurship in the arts.

It’s a place where teens are employed while expressing their creativity, and developing businesses and skills in a safe environment.

“Career pathways is our thing,” Gensac told Noozhawk.

In 2017, the after-school program served 148 students, and 100 percent of its high school seniors went on to college.

Business and art mentors guide student development, but the youths drive the process by creating their own companies, designing and making products, and leading the marketing and sales.

Gensac explained that about 80 students attend Youth Interactive’s program each school semester and form five youth-led business teams. The groups meet for two hours at a time twice a week.

The first day focuses on leading a business and entrepreneurship skills, a subsequent day addresses marketing, vocation skills and designing the products the team sells.

There’s also a carpentry program at the county-run Los Prietos Boys Camp. Juvenile teens on probation transform donated wood into products like wine barrels.

The front of Youth Interactive’s building includes a retail store that sells the work produced by the students and local artists.

Students earn income and obtain job skills. Youth keep 90 percent of the profits, while 10 percent goes toward supporting the organization’s programs.

On average, students earn from $300 to $400 per semester.

“We hire students in our shop on the weekends and afternoons,” Gensac said. “It gives them money before they are 18.”

Plans are in the works, she said, to add a mocktail bar to the retail site next year. Sherry Villanueva from Loquita and The Lark, architect Jeffrey Berkus, and Marc Fialip of the Belmond El Encanto are joining forces to create the space offering Youth Interactive’s program.

“They are designing the bar now, and we will train students in hospitality pathways,” Gensac said. “We are excited.”

The room adjacent to the retail space is where students work on their business ideas. Sewing machines and large tables fill the area.

The space also is available for rent for other events, Gensac said.

In the corner, a massive pirate ship stands tall with multiple bean-bag chairs inside. It’s a “chill zone” for relaxing.

On the second floor, there is work space for other organizations serving young adults and the arts, Gensac explained.

So far, she said, more than 40 organizations are interested in joining forces with Youth Interactive, including Santa Barbara City College, mental wellness nonprofits, the REACH program and Peace Works Travel.

“We wanted to get the partners that are synergetic with our mission of serving underserved youth,” Gensac said. “We will build out with other nonprofits.”

Youth Interactive students are introduced every semester with an orientation to meet staff and mentors, and extra-curricular benefits like one-on-one tutoring.

The organization’s “Get It Done Program” boasts 40 volunteers and assists students with work shadowing to teach how professionals do their jobs, tutoring, field trips, and help with college applications or getting a driver’s license.

“It’s all about collaboration,” Gensac explained. “Coming together, and wanting to serve the students and being downtown so close to the schools — it makes sense.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.